This week I was shaken back into my past, my “pre-transition” past, when I learned that my significant other of 5 years died very suddenly. Death takes me off guard. Besides the great deal of sadness that I feel for this premature death and for his family’s immense trauma, I also discovered new layers of my own emotions and mourning that I seemed to have forgotten was within me. Perhaps the mourning of his death brought with it a mourning for all my friendships that have been lost. When I began my transition, I definitely left much behind without looking back. Transitioning is such a difficult process that many relationships were severed at least temporarily and sometimes indefinitely in order to achieve the sense of self that I was wanting to express. Of course, my relationship with my ex was severed necessarily and now permanently, and I think I am sad about acknowledging that loss too.
I encountered the deaths of two grandparents shortly after beginning my transition. Although I did not speak with either grandparent directly about my decision, I am fairly sure they were aware of (and visibly concerned about) what I was doing. Nonetheless, they seemed to have reached a point in their lives where I don’t think they felt like they were capable of discussing the issue. And I’m pretty sure that I felt incapable of a heart-to-heart at that point too. But it was clear to me—though painful–that love was still part of the equation for us, and no ties were cut.
Now, however, I have a much vaster language and set of experiences with which to express myself and to talk about this transition, eleven years after beginning it “outwardly.” Fortunately, I can revisit those conversations with my mom, family, and friends, which, at the time, were less articulate and more fraught with raw emotion. In this way (and in other ways too), my transition never really ends.
This week I read a 2011 article in the Journal of Culture, Health, & Sexuality about the “typical trajectory” of the young transgender man. The article described the transition as a short-lived stage in a linear process before the “typical guy” then blends back into society where he presumably lives happily ever after as a privileged (white) man. I know I am not the only one that thinks we do a disservice to trans persons, family, medical providers, allies, the general public, and ourselves when we present this kind of narrative about ourselves. Of course, I understand that there may also be this desire to be “normal” and “mainstream” and, really, who doesn’t want to “fit in”? In some ways, we are invited to tell those kinds of stories to providers and gatekeepers. But research’s reinforcement of a linear narrative of the “typical trajectory,” characterized as a brief physical transition followed by passing privilege, comes at a cost.
Some of those costs were highlighted during Chase Joynt’s really engaging screening and talk, First Person Trans, which I also happened to attend this week. Chase’s curation of film/videos problematized the linear narratives that mainstream media tend to tell on our behalf. His work and others’ that were screened emphasized the beauty, the sadness, the isolation, and the realities of much more complicated trans experiences with medical institutions, the law, schools, and family. Trans artists recreate these narratives in part because they are entirely absent when more “mainstream” voices and institutions represent our experiences.
I am very privileged to be able to have these conversations in the ongoing transition that is my life. It keeps me aware of my strengths and my vulnerabilities but also integrated in a deeper sense than the linear narrative around passing privilege implies. Maybe that narrative works for some, but I was reminded very viscerally this week how it does not work for me. My friend’s death brought to the fore not only the losses that I continue to mourn or attempt to recoup/repair but also a part of myself that is still present even though my current identity expression and life may not reflect that part of me and my past as coherently as one might expect.